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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Utah football certainly sends its fans on a roller-coaster ride when it steps on the field.
Wednesday night was no different when the Utes competed in the Foster Farms Bowl.
In a frustrating, nail-biting fashion, No. 19 Utah beat Indiana (6-7) 26-24 to win its 14th bowl game in its past 15 postseason games. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham also improved his bowl game record to an astounding 10-1, leading the NCAA.
Star running back and Foster Farms Bowl Offensive MVP Joe Williams rushed for a Foster Farms Bowl record 222 yards and a touchdown while kicker “Automatic” Andy Phillips kicked a 27-yard field goal to seal the Utes’ win.
Utah (9-4) got off to a rocky start. Kyle Fulks, who replaced injured Cory Butler-Byrd as the kickoff returner, fumbled the ball on the opening kick. Indiana recovered the ball on the 11-yard line and scored with less than a minute off the clock. The Utes answered with a 35-yard field goal.
The Utah defense followed by coming out electric, forcing a fumble to set up a Joe Williams touchdown. The quick seven-second play was just what the Utes needed to gain the 10- 7 lead heading into the second quarter. Fans were in disbelief but excited that Utah finally scored in the red zone, which was nicknamed the dread zone this season for lack of conversion.
Utah quarterback Troy Williams, who finished 11-of-23 with 178 yards and an interception, shared time under center with true freshman Tyler Huntley. Huntley performed well, giving coaches a good reason to let him compete for the starting job next season. His only pass was a 36-yard completion to Fulks. However, he was used more in the run game, finishing with 23 yards on eight carries with a 1-yard touchdown to extend Utah’s lead to 17-7.
Between officials missing penalties and questionable play-calling, the first half left Utah fans frustrated. The Utes punted on three of their last four drives of the half. Troy Williams struggled to get out of the pocket in time as the offensive line crumbled. Obvious holding penalties were visible, but somehow the SEC officiating crew didn’t call them. Indiana scored 10 unanswered points and tied the game at halftime.
Defensive back Marcus Williams opened the second half just as Utah fans wanted — with an interception. It looked like Utah woke up at halftime and was ready to roll.
Unfortunately, the Utes failed to convert on third-and-2 and were forced to punt once again. It started to look like a broken record sounds.
The next scores came from Phillips, who squeezed in 48- and 41-yard field goals to retake the lead at 23-17.
Determined not to give up, Indiana took advantage of a Utah fumble to set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown and retake the lead at 24-23. The Utes fumbled again on the next drive, but Indiana’s 40-yard field-goal attempt was no good.
Luck was finally on Utah’s side.
With just over a minute left in the game, the Utes marched downfield and Phillips nailed a 27-yard field goal. The entire Utah fan base held on their seats, hoping the defense would show up and stop its opponent.
It did just that.
Filipo Mokofisi came up with a big sack for a loss of 9 yards. Indiana got a first down on fourth-and-10, followed by a false start with five seconds left in the game. Kavika Luafatasaga hit the quarterback as time expired.
Despite the win, some Utah fans were left less than satisfied with the season, but the Utes did the one thing they do best: win bowl games.